Medial epicondyle fractures may occur in isolation or with associated elbow dislocation. In the absence of open fracture or fragment incarceration, nonoperative management with immobilization has been shown to result in generally successfully outcomes comparable with those reported after surgical fixation. However, no comparative investigation has assessed outcomes after nonoperative treatment based on the presence or absence of elbow dislocation.
A systematic review was conducted investigating all studies in the literature reporting nonoperative outcomes for isolated medial epicondyle fractures and fracture-dislocations. Databases included in this review were PubMed, Biosis Preview, SPORTDiscus, PEDro, and EMBASE. We sought to evaluate results related to the incidence and outcomes of bony nonunion and the incidence of elbow stiffness, pain, ulnar neuropathy, cubitus valgus deformity, and laxity between isolated fractures of the medial epicondyle and fracture-dislocations.
Review of the literature yielded 7 studied meeting appropriate inclusion and exclusion criteria, comprising 81 total patients (n=42 patients with fracture-dislocations, n=39 patients with isolated fracture). Bony nonunion occurred in 69% (n=29) of patients with fracture-dislocation versus 49% (n=19) with isolated fractures (P=0.11); however, both groups had minimal clinical or functional disabilities at final follow-up. Decreased elbow flexion and extension range of motion were significantly more frequent after fracture-dislocation than isolated fractures [43% (n=18) vs. 15% (n=6), respectively, P=0.01], while patients rarely demonstrated pain, ulnar neuropathy, or deformity in the presence or absence of dislocation.
In the absence of absolute surgical indication, nonoperative management of isolated medical epicondyle fractures with or without concomitant elbow dislocation seems to be successful with few long-term complications leading to functional disability. However, increased rates of nonunion, elbow stiffness, and elbow laxity may occur with fracture-dislocations, and merit further study with validated functional outcome scores. Further comparative studies are necessary to determine the true indications and outcomes in nonoperatively managed medial epicondyle fractures.
Level of Evidence:
Level II—systematic review of level-II or level-I studies with inconsistent results.